I was first warned about Sex Church by Rob Vertigo, head of the Termbo West Coast offices, early in 2010. I do believe he had their cassette release in hand and lovingly reviewed before I knew what they had brewing, and sure enough once I got paws on a copy, I knew he wasn't bullshitting. He spoke of a live show "Loud as piss and full of psych’d out doom..." and threw some Japanese band names at them in comparison along with a dozen other descriptives that got me drooling. The guy's always right. Next thing you know I have a single in the mailbox from the ever reliable Sweet Rot label and I figured out they were sort of the remnants of Ladies Night, whose surly single or two were a favorite of mine. Finding out Nickg was involved was just gravy. Their LP (on yet another trustworthy label) took everyone by surprise I think, whether you wanted to throw the "Death Rock" tag at it or take it as the S3/VU drone-psych hybrid it is. No matter which way you slice it, it was good meat. Good enough to get them a ticket on the HozAc singles club train, rave reviews across the board and serious slottage in many a "Best of 2010" list. It's tough to say any band today has an "original" sound, but I think Sex Church pull off the feat, at least by virtue of being a band I have a tough time coming up with a definite description of. I just know it's good. Attempting to gain some further insight into their "thing", I harassed singer/guitarist Levon (a real gentleman) via e-mail for a couple weeks and came up with this interview. I hope it sheds some light into a band I'm really excited about for 2011 and who received quite a few votes in the Rookie of the Year race...
TB: Beginning with the basics here, how, when and why did Sex Church come together? Who plays what and what were they doing before this?
LEVON: Sex Church consists of myself on guitar and vocals, Caleb also plays guitar, Nick plays bass, and Mike plays drums. Me and Caleb were both in Ladies Night, and the long overdue disintegration of that band resulted in us starting this one. Nick was in the Catholic Boys, Tears and I'm sure some other Wisconsin bands. We also played together briefly in a band here called Master Apes. He joined the band after about our first six months of playing without a bass player. Mike is also in Modern Creatures, and has only been in the band for a few months. Our original drummer Ben has just moved to New York to chase love, and is leaving a big void in the city's music scene. He was also in Defektors and Vapid.
TB: Were there any bands/sounds you specifically decided to take as a starting point for Sex Church?
LEVON: Caleb and myself mostly write the songs, or at least bring the ideas to the band, and I don't think that we overly consider the influences, but it's pretty unavoidable. I guess some would be Pere Ubu/Rocket From the Tombs, Neu, Cheater Slicks, and Spacemen 3, but we've never set out to write a song like any of those bands, and probably don't really sound like them at all. I know that we both made a conscious decision to try and not have a pigeon-holed sound, i.e. every song the same style. Also wanting to not be confined to two minute punk songs. Repetition is our key. When we started I think we were both on a big psych/Krautrock kick, and wanting to jam out more, stretch out the songs. What I or him will often imagine as a song before we bring it to the rest of the band, will rarely turn out like we imagined it, which is what being in a band is...not just some dude with a laptop.
TB: How has living in Vancouver/Western Canada shaped the band? I'm a firm believer that environment influences art, do you think your city and surroundings (and perhaps Canada in general) have played a role in forming the the Sex Church aesthetic?
LEVON: Totally. The rain and grey fall/winter/spring of Vancouver is definitely a big influence. When the sun finally comes, it seems so unnatural that people go crazy. Working and going through the junkie/hooker/human degradation ridden downtown eastside everyday is also nice. The alienation of being in the corner of Canada is another thing. The closest big city without crossing the border is Calgary, 12 hours away, over the Rocky Mountains. Which has also resulted in us never playing anywhere in Canada beside Vancouver. I think we'd feel more kinship to a band from Seattle than Toronto or Montreal, which seems like another world. But don't get me wrong, I actually like it here, and there isn't anywhere else I'd rather live. It can just be bleak when you look at it that way, which I usually do, and I'm sure we all share that view.
TB: Your city does seem to have a pretty lively music community, at least from afar to a guy from the other side ofthe continent. That Emergency Room comp in particular made me take notice...does that scene/venue still exist and are Sex Church part of it?
What else is happening in Vancouver you can tell us about?
LEVON: We kinda missed out on the ER as a venue, although we did record a
couple songs in the space, our first 7" namely. Ben, our then drummer
used to practice there, and we had access to using it. But that was
right before it was shut down by the city. Played there a couple times
in my old band and went to lots of parties there, always a blast.
Most of those bands still exist. Honestly I don't go out very much
besides for our own shows or touring bands, but there are definitely
some good bands. Von Bingen is a cool krauty/more experimental band I
really like, we played with a new band of youngsters the other day
called Student Teacher who were pretty good. Modern Creatures and
Defektors both rule, but we've shared members with both so I might be
biased. There is also a distinct lack of venues here, whether it be
bars/clubs or warehouse type spaces, which is a real bummer.
TB: A lot of the Vancouver bands I've heard seem to be coming from a more
angular and cold post-punk or almost New Wave-ish sound, like a lot of the
bands that were on that ER comp and such. Sex Church seem to
sound a lot more "warm" or organic than many of the other Vancouver bands I've heard...am I just making that up or do you think there's
some truth to that? You guys seem to be very unique for your locale...
LEVON: Yeah, I don't think we fit in particularly well here. Maybe too
rocking for those types of bands, and too adventurous/noisy for the
large amount of more basic type garage bands here. Both of those
scenes seem to do really well, and we're lost in limbo somewhere in
between. We just do our own thing. You are on the right track.
TB: Many people have already hung the "Death Rock" tag on you. Was there any
conscious decision to pull some influence from bands like Gun Club or
Flesheaters or did it just end up sounding that way? Do you guys even listen
to those bands?
LEVON: Not really, I love the Gun Club, but they weren't really on the
radar as far as something we were setting out for. Same with
Flesheaters. Both are very flattering comparisons though. I don't
really think "Death Rock" is an apt genre title for us. I have hated
reading that people think we are a "new-Goth" band or some shit
though. Just four dudes bashing it out.
TB: Any insight as to why you think people are giving you the new-Goth or Death Rock thing?
LEVON: I guess maybe the art on our first 7" was pretty gothy looking. Jeff (Sweet Rot) said I used the "teenage goth font" for it. I really like occulty type graphics, but who doesn't these days? General downer lyrics and somewhat bleak sounding music? I see why people would say it, just not digging it. Oh, and the band name, which I just wanted to be super ridiculous, but probably encourages the instant categorization. Whatever, nobody likes what people say about their own band.
TB: Are there any modern bands you feel a certain comraderie with or that you
think might be trying to do something similar to Sex Church?
LEVON: This is a tough one, maybe Idle Times (live especially), a bit of the Lamps approach/aesthetic, maybe some of the Fresh and Onlys stuff? It's hard for me to say, an outsider would have a better opinion.
CALEB: Probably. If you're looking for specific bands, I can't think of any
names off the top of my head. Not that we're so unique or something,
just that we're very isolated. I think that our "thing" is just
playing whatever we feel like playing or what works at a certain time,
we're not married to a certain sound or anything. I think lots of
bands operate on that same premise.
Comrades? Go back to China commie.
TB: Please tell us how you met Nickg and what his arrival on the Vancouver scene was like.
LEVON: I met Nick when Catholic Boys played in Vancouver in 2005 or so. Me and Caleb's old band played with them, and also went to see them the night before in Bellingham at what we found out to be a Straight Edge house party. It was an especially cold and icy winter for the NW and those dudes were super sick, like actually ill, but still fucking owned it. I guess he moved here at the start of 2007, and myself another friend started the band Master Apes with him. I played drums in it, and don't really like playing drums for more than an hour, so after maybe a year of lazy existence, that band fizzled out. He has recently also started another band with his wife and some friends, which he fronts called #1 BAD. Also be sure to check out his solo jam, The Crupe. He's a busy dude and it's awesome that he lives here. Love playing with him, but his gas situation is out of control.
TB: What concepts are Sex Church songs about lyrically and thematically? Im
interested in knowing more about "209" in particular...
LEVON: "209" is basically a metaphor for an apartment number as a mental
trap. Being stuck in a shitty room/life and knowing that it's the end
of the line. Hopelessness.
I guess alot of our songs revolve around the same axis of depression,
anxiety and frustration, peppered with the odd hopeful, or romantic
idea. I hate talking about our lyrics, even with the other members of
the band. Although I am a happily married man, I mostly still write
about broken relationships, dreading the reality of life, eternally
fucking up, boredom and isolation. What else is there? Sometimes I
feel like we really need to rite some upbeat/cheery songs, but it
seems impossible. I really like writing lyrics when I'm hung over. Seems like a good
time for reflection and the perfect combo of self-loathing and
exorcising the demons.
TB: Did the band come up with the art for the Convulsive record? Im
interested to know if the Gauguin palm has any particular significance.
LEVON: The artwork is 100% attributed to Arturo and Amelie, we had nothing
to do with it, besides approval. I do really like it however, and
couldn't be happier with it. I really enjoy the mysteriousness of it,
and especially like the the picture on the insert, which I believe
Arturo found in a thrift store in Florida. So I guess the palm has
no significant meaning to us, besides looking cool. For some reason,I
really like the ring on the finger though. You'd have to ask Arturo
for more info...
ARTURO (CONVULSIVE RECORDS): The picture of Paul Gauguin was something I found while browsing through Flickr. Before seeing the picture I already had an idea of how I wanted the layout of the cover to look like and the sort of image I wanted. I wanted something mysterious without it being too much on the "cultish" side of things. When I found the picture I knew it was pretty much the right one for the cover. I like some of Gauguin's works but I'm not a huge fan of him or anything like that. The picture is interesting by itself but I like the fact that it's also a photograph of a well known artist taken by a French poet, Julien Leclercq, who was interested in palmistry and symbolism, which makes it even more fascinating.
The insert picture (ed.: seen directly below...I honestly thought this was a picture of the band at first...) was something I found at a thrift store in New York. I didn't even notice the guy with his pants down in the background until I looked at it a few days later at home. I originally thought it was some weird church service thing with a woman screaming at a praying man but the fact that there's a dude with no pants on gives it a whole 'nother "what the fuck is this?" level.
TB: How much recording have you guys done so far? Do you have stuff still in
the can for future releases or will you be recording again? The songs Felix
Fung recorded sound great, I take it he's a Vancouver local? He also has a cool name...What do you
guys have coming out in the near future?
LEVON: Almost everything we have recorded so far has been released, besides a
couple songs we have dropped which didn't warrant vinyl. Hopefully we
will be getting to the studio again soon, maybe another 7" before
attempting another LP. We definitely have our sights on doing another
LP sooner than a bunch of 7"s. I guess it's alot more of a satisfying
format for our band. But nothing set in stone at this point. Probably
nothing for a little bit. Don't want to saturate the market with a
bunch of shitty 7"s, but I don't think we are capable of that anyways
as our writing process is extremely slow.
Felix is a great dude and a pleasure to record with. The rare kind of
person who gets what we're going for, and is really into spending the
time to make sure the take is good, and get the sound we want. He also
has lots of cool shit for us to use. The only person we'd want to
record with here. I do think we will experiment more with recording ourselves in the
TB: RobV dropped a Rallizes Denudes comparison in his review of your tape,
which certainly got me interested. Is LRD an influence at all? I think I
understand what he was getting at with the guitar cacophony/drone...I
immediately thought S3 and the VU by extension as well. I think "dark psych"
might be a good descriptive instead of "ye olde goth-death-rock" or whatever...Is this
even a question? I'm really enjoying the fact you guys are so hard to pin
down...it's always a sign of a good band...
LEVON: I think on that tape there was a couple of improvised pieces, where
stuff like that was a big influence. Sheer volume and repetition
particularly. Songs like "Dead End" and "Mistaken" are an attempt at
that type of shit. I like that description better. We want to follow
that path more. Locking in and zoning out. I think we're gonna work on
a cassette only release of improvised psych/noisy type stuff sometime
in the near future. Hard to pin down is our M.O.
TB: I was internetting for some pics and noticed you guys had a Vice article
where the author said this: "I tried to chat with them recently, but for a band with a
name like Sex Church, it was a bit of a snoozefest." What the fuck?! That
piece was a bit of a backhanded compliment...
LEVON: Yeah, I actually did an hour long phone interview for that one,
which resulted in a one sentence quote. Unfortunately my stories of
how our songs are long and depressing weren't enough for Vice. Bummer.
I think our name is far more exciting than our band to the
outsider/square. People hope we're gonna be some crazy
sex/drug/cult/degenerate creeps. Unfortunately we just picked that
name cause it sounded outrageous. We may be degenerates, just not the
kind Vice has interest in. Fuck 'em. The dude who wrote that is
actually a pretty cool guy, but his original piece was severely
butchered by his editor.
TB: What is there about modern garage-punk (or "Termbo-centric" bands or
whatever we're calling it today...) music that bugs you the most these days?
LEVON: I guess the instant disposability of it all. Seems like there are so
many shitty fly by night "bands" (and I use that term loosely), farting
out 7"s left right and centre that it's hard to keep track. Who gives a
shit? Who's gonna remember half this shit in ten years? I do not
assume we are immune to this, but I hope so. Too many bands rush to
release anything and everything, as much as possible, without worrying
about quality control. It's pretty mind-boggling some of the stuff
that makes it onto records these days. At the same time, there plenty
of really awesome bands right now like Human Eye, Intelligence, Wooden
Shjips, Puffy Areolas, Sic Alps, El Jesus de Magico, Nothing People,
Guinea Worms, Wounded Lion and lots more all killing it right now.
TB: I think you guys did it right - a demo tape, then a solid debut 7" on a local label that teased a great LP, and then a follow-up single over the course of a year or so. Tell us how you
got hooked up with a NYC label for the LP and then picked for the HozAc
singles club? Did you have to think twice about the Singles Club deal at
all? Please comment on how great of a dude Jeff(Sweet Rot) is as well.
(Ed.: A this point Levon & Co. hit the road for a short West Coast tour on the way to play at Budget Rock, and we finished up from there...)
LEVON: Well, we got lucky with Sweet Rot putting out our first record, he
agreed to do it quickly and it was nice doing our first record on a
well distributed and received label, so it was out there quick and
people heard it. It's also excellent working with someone in your home
town who is a great friend that you can trust.
Arturo who does Convulsive just kind of flirted around doing a record
for a while, until we recorded some new stuff that became the 12" and
he bit. I love the dude and can't imagine a person that I'd rather
work with. Impeccable taste and a great dude. I sent Todd (Hozac) a song
and he instantly asked if we wanted to do a 7" for the 2010 singles
club. No one else was banging on our door so it was a no-brainer. The
only thing that is a drag about that one is how hard it is to get
unless you subscribed. Whatever. Tough shit, come to our shows and buy
Jeff is the best dude ever, basically. A great friend, besides the label
shit, and that is the foundation. He recently got married, and his
wedding was great. A mixture of rock and roll type dirt bags and him
and his wife Fen's families were in attendance. We're finally going to
a Canucks game together this season and I'm pumped.
We seriously feel lucky to have worked with these three dudes who all
rule in their own right, besides their labels. Hopefully our lucky
streak will continue...
TB: So, hows the tour going?
LEVON: Tour is pretty good. This is only the second time we've done the West Coast, but it was definitely better than the first. We don't really argue or fight so that is nice. Played with all our favorites along the way: Lamps, Wounded Lion, Idle Times, and lots of others. My favorite new band I saw was Little Queenie. Ate lots of good food and drank lots of shitty American beer. I only had one suicidal hangover, so that was nice. I really wish we could tour more, but it's not realistic for us right now. I feel like we haven't really left our comfort zone yet. Hopefully the East Coast next year, some other parts of Canada, or maybe Europe next year. Until then we are staying put.
TB: Read any good books lately? I'm thinking of possible literary influences for Sex Church...
LEVON: I really wish I had a good answer for this but I don't. I was flipping through some Velvet Underground day-by-day book when we were on tour. I was also reading a book about GBV recently but I got bored of it. Unfortunately we have no real literary influences to make me sound smart or cool...
TB: How's the Budget Rock scene treating you? Will you guys be dressing up as pirates or covering Pizza Hut jingles for the occassion?
LEVON: Budget Rock was cool. We were kinda fish out of water compared to the majority of bands, but people seemed to like us, even though we forgot our Hamburglar costumes at home, so whatever. Icky Boyfriends fucking killed, and I had never seen The Oblivians, so that ruled. Mitch did a great job.
"False Alters" Tour Cassette (self-released - 2009)
"Dead End" 7" (Sweet Rot - 2010)
"Six Songs By..." LP (Convulsive - 2010)
"209" Singles Club 7" (HozAc - 2010)
Sex Church on the web here.
Pics provided by the band, the first one is by Jason Fisher, if anyone else would like a credit please contact the editor.
To read other interviews go here.
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